“I can’t get people interested in helping me with my idea. What can I do?”
That was the question posed to me recently at a leadership discussion I hosted at a local in-person event.
Individual contributors and first-line managers often ask similar questions as they try to gain cross-organizational support from for their ideas and perspectives.
Many try to escalate the decision up the “chain of command” until someone in authority forces the decision. But that approach is rarely successful.
Building consensus, reaching agreement, forming coalitions … These almost never happen by force.
In any organization, there are generally three kinds of influence you can exert:
This is by far the most powerful form of influence. People want to cooperate with people they know, like, and trust. Dale Carnegie wrote, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
And those friendships go both ways… The stronger your relationships are with others, the more you’ll understand their concerns, and the better your ideas will be.
When you don’t have a solid relationship with the people you want to convince, they may agree to follow your lead when they trust your expertise. Having a visible track record of success with the kind of proposal you’re making can draw people to your idea.
The influence of last resort is your role, position, or title. Interestingly, the more often you rely on the power of your position of authority, the less effective that influence becomes. “Because I said so” tends to communicate that you care about your own interests more than other people’s and that you aren’t able to explain the logic of your decision.
Architects and Senior Staff Engineers may need to flex their expertise power to encourage acceptance of sweeping changes that reach multiple departments and influence people they know only by name.
Executives may need to rely on their position to enforce policies that are as necessary as they are distasteful, such as for security, legal compliance or when a satisfactory explanation would violate legitimate confidentiality concerns.
But the earlier you can start building positive relationships with people outside of your department, the stronger influence you’ll be able to have when you’re ready to propose your ideas.